Tribeca 2018: Aaron Lieber, Producers talk Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable

Following a screening of Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable during the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Solzy at the Movies spoke with director Aaron Lieber along with producers Penny Edmiston and Jane Kelly Kosek.

Thanks for joining us.  How much of a thrill was it to premiere the film at Tribeca?

Aaron Lieber:  Being here in Tribeca, I’ve never been in a festival and this is my first feature-length documentary.  So to be here in Tribeca, New York, the energy is just surreal, actually.  Yesterday at the world premiere, I was just kind of like, I can’t believe we made.  It’s just very exciting and super fun.  I’m just honored to be a part of it.

When did you start working on the film?

Aaron Lieber:  The first trip we did for the film was in June 2014.  We shot for about four years and edited for a year.  It’s been about a five-year project to get to this point.

When you’re following Bethany Hamilton around, could you get a sense of her celebrity status?

Aaron Lieber:  It’s really interesting.  I actually was pretty good friends with her before we started.  I didn’t really realize how famous she was.  As we were traveling and going through airports in these different places, at one point we were surfing and she gets out of the water and a line of people started organizing on their own to get her autograph.  That kind of happened at a lot of different places.  I quickly realized how famous she was.  It was fun to see the impact she has on people by being a positive role model.

Penny, how did you get attached to the documentary?

Penny Edmiston:  Through a mutual friend.  She referred me to Aaron.  When we met and sat down, he told me what he wanted to do.  We ended up sitting down for about 3 hours.  I was so hooked right and then.  If he had walked out, I would have been holding onto his leg like, You can’t do this film without me!  I loved the approach—what we wanted to say about helping her get past the stigma of the shark attack.  I had no idea how talented she was until we started to get into the film and see the footage and how inspiring.  That’s what excited me about the project.

When she pulled her name out of consideration for the ESPY Awards, I thought that was rather powerful by rejecting the stigma.

Penny Edmiston:  I think as an athlete, if you let something—she’s competing with full-bodied people.  If she let that thought slip in her mind, I think that could hurt her as an athlete.  She doesn’t see herself that way.

What do you want people to take away from watching the film?

Aaron Lieber:  I think some of the takeaways can be—to your point—people tend to put her in a box, shark attack survivor, this and that.  I think we all maybe feel like we’re in some sort of box of perception.  I feel like through her story, you can choose to push through that and take some of the mantras that she has in her life to be unstoppable in your own.  I think we all have challenges.  We all have to adapt and get through our own struggles so hopefully people find inspiration and motivation through this film.

I know that you two have Beauty Mark coming up on May 22 but what else are you working on?

Jane Kelly Kosek:  I have a film called 20 Weeks, which just had theatrical.  We have another film, Epiphany, that we’re in post-production on.  We’re in development on a TV show called Speedway, which is about a young girl whose trying to become a champion racing driver..

Aaron Lieber:  I’m so focused on just releasing this film, distribution, and hopefully sleeping for a little while. (Laughs)

Sleep is good!

Aaron Lieber:  I need to catch up on a few months of sleep.

What’s it been like with the premiere, press and all that?

Aaron Lieber:  It’s been so fun.  I’m so used to just being behind the camera and behind the editing.  People asking me questions and all this stuff—it’s so fun.  The attention is fun.  I can’t be more grateful, really

Thank you and congrats on the film.

Aaron Lieber:  Thanks so much.  I appreciate it.

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival in the Spotlight Documentary program.  You can read my review here.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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